Celia Mattison

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Sheila Liming’s Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time is a thoughtful manifesto on the inherently subversive and joyous act of socializing. In seven chapters about different types of hanging out (“Dinner Parties as Hanging Out,” “Hanging Out on the Job,” etc.), Liming explores the fading art of leisure and its cultural roots.

Liming defines hanging out as a conscious act of refusal in a production-obsessed society. “Hanging out is about daring to do nothing much,” she writes, “and, even more than that, about daring to do it in the company of others.” She acknowledges that it is a peculiar time—amid the COVID-19 pandemic—to call for a return to the in-person hang, but this context is precisely why we are realizing the importance of spending idle time in physical communities. We cannot let corporate capitalism snatch away what is left of our free time, Liming argues. “Time is being stolen from us—not for the first time . . . but at newly unprecedented rates.”

Hanging Out reads as a chattier, slightly more precious version of How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. The book embraces its call for intentional meandering with wide-ranging references and a loose narrative structure. An English professor, Liming is unsurprisingly the most compelling when she incorporates literary criticism into her treatise. While the personal stories drag, the fiction references crackle. This is particularly true in her analysis of “party literature” in the chapter “Hanging Out at Parties,” in which Liming looks at several 20th-century novels and examines the different ways parties have functioned as social mechanisms.

What is quickly revealed in Liming’s contemplative writing is that hanging out—and all of its possible ramifications, limitations and effects—is too enormous a subject to comprehensively discuss. Instead, Liming uses her time to argue for the importance of mingling with others and finding time, even in an increasingly virtual world, to enjoy the hang.

Sheila Liming’s Hanging Out reveals how the joyous act of socializing is inherently subversive.
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Jenny Odell’s 2019 book, How to Do Nothing, was a massive success that established her as an authority on attention in the digital era. Since its publication, a groundswell of writers have attempted to imitate Odell’s unique combination of cultural criticism, academic research and nature writing. But Saving Time proves that no one can do Odell like Odell.

As Saving Time explores why we believe time to be scarce and how this has informed our digital-age obsession with efficiency and productivity, it adds a practical approach to the work Odell started in How to Do Nothing. These fixations, Odell explains, are not new. They’re the products of industrialized capitalism and wage labor that we’ve internalized as virtue. “Now it’s not just the employer who sees you as twenty-four hours of personified labor time,” she writes. “It’s what you see when you look in the mirror.”

Read our interview with Jenny Odell about ‘Saving Time,’ her brilliant, hopeful critique of our obsession with efficiency.

Saving Time is a fascinating book to read during the recent rise in labor organizing. Odell looks at many forms of labor rights and resistance throughout history, from 19th-century worker movements to the ongoing “lying flat” movement in China, started by a young Chinese factory worker who quit his job in 2016 to ride his bike 1,300 miles to Tibet, living off of part-time work and “chilling.” The “lying flat” movement was met with an unsurprising backlash once it made its way to the United States, similar to the anger around the recent “quiet quitting” phenomenon. In response to people who oppose these kinds of anti-work movements—people who would prefer that everyone maintain the status quo of scrambling to get ahead—Odell writes that “advice for winning the rat race assumes that you’re running in it, rather than peeling away from a vanishing dream,” identifying the gap between those who have bought into the bootstrap myth and those who have refused it.

Alongside these threads of historical analysis, Odell also makes space for her contemplative relationship with nature, her quiet reminder of the beauty and joy that exist outside of the capitalist grind. But Saving Time is not a list of flat aphorisms about mindfulness, nor is it a screed. Rather, it’s a carefully constructed vision of hope with meaningful advice that will linger. What is it that you want to do, Odell asks, and why aren’t you doing it? It is possible to free yourself from the all-devouring cult of productivity, and Odell imagines a world where we have all done so. “If time were not a commodity, then time, our time, would not be as scarce as it seemed just a moment ago,” she writes. “Together, we could have all the time in the world.”

Many writers have imitated Jenny Odell’s unique style since the publication of How to Do Nothing, but Saving Time proves that no one can do Odell like Odell.
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Artist and critic Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy was a New York Times bestseller and a critical favorite. The 2019 book considered the ways we spend our attention in a world full of technologies vying for (and profiting from) that attention. Now Odell returns with Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock, a provocative examination of efficiency culture that encourages readers to rethink their relationships with time. 

Odell was inspired to write the book after hearing from readers who enjoyed How to Do Nothing but struggled to incorporate their new thinking into their busy lives. “That feedback became generative,” she says during a call to her home in Oakland, California. “I started to think, if it’s true that we don’t have enough time, how did we get here? And why? Why do we think of time as scarce? What is the difference between, for example, someone who feels like they don’t have any time and someone who really doesn’t have any time?”.

Read our starred review of ‘Saving Time’ by Jenny Odell.

Saving Time began with two inspirations that came together in a surprising way. First, Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Library, a privately funded public research library in San Francisco, told Odell that she needed to read E.P. Thompson’s 1967 work, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” “It’s an early building block for thinking about the relationship of time to capitalism,” she says, and how the Industrial Revolution required workers to be more disciplined with their time in order to maximize profits. The second inspiration was Odell’s burgeoning interest in geology, which also shows up in the book’s cover art. “I spend a lot of time in the mountains, and that’s obviously a very different way of thinking about time,” she says. Mountains offer a way of zooming out on modern life by contemplating layers of earth forming, colliding and eroding over millions of years. “Saving Time is about these two ways of looking at time.”

The natural world is of central importance to Odell’s work, and her careful study of nature feels refreshing. For example, birds played a key role in How to Do Nothing, and they remain important in Saving Time. “I don’t think birds entered my work until I was writing the original How to Do Nothing talk,” she says, referencing a keynote address she gave at an art and technology festival in 2017, which later appeared in the book. “It was unexpected; I was doing a lot of that thinking in the [Morcom] Rose Garden, which has a lot of birds, and I started to see parallels between the natural world and things that happen with attention and information.” 

That municipal rose garden in Oakland is an example Odell gives of a noncommercial leisure space, a “third space” where people can gather outside of work and home, preferably without spending money. It’s where Odell spends much of her time, and in Saving Time, she complicates her feelings toward the park and its troubled history. “I still find it utopian, even though when it was built, it would have been a de facto white space because of redlining,” she says. “But the current-day rose garden gives me hope for what places like this could be.” Places where people can spend time, gathering or sitting in quiet observation, without working or buying something. Places where people can be.

I read Saving Time at the end of 2022, just as people were posting their ambitions for 2023. I share this with Odell, mentioning how clarifying it was to read about Frederick Winslow Taylor, a 19th-century “efficiency bro” (as she calls the modern generation of productivity influencers) who advocated for carefully breaking down actions into small, trackable components, at the same time I was feeling tempted to write an extensive list of resolutions.

“It’s seductive,” Odell says when I ask her about why we love seeing Taylorist statistics like the number of steps tracked by a Fitbit. (Taylor himself counted his steps and timed his own activities.) “For a user who wants to have a sense of control in their life, it’s really seductive. It offers self-understanding. You’ll be able to see yourself at a glance and make changes accordingly.” But this data also leads us to try and make each moment as productive as possible.

“After you read [Saving Time] . . . the world feels filled with curiosity rather than dread.”

So then, what do we do? “The only way to counter this desire is to ask why you’re doing something and if you want to be doing it,” is Odell’s advice. This requires a level of mindfulness that most of us struggle to attain. But Saving Time is not a screed, and Odell has no interest in scolding her readers, nor depressing them with grim truths about modern capitalism. Instead she offers hope. “I walk around a lot with a pair of binoculars and a jeweler’s loupe,” she says. “Sometimes when I’m hanging out with a friend, I’ll give them the loupe. At first they say, ‘Okay, why do you have this?’ And then they’ll look at something, and every single time they say, ‘I had no idea it looked like this. It’s incredible.’ And then they want to look at everything with the loupe.”

“Unfortunately for a lot of adults, the last time they remember that feeling of discovery was childhood,” Odell continues. “That’s what motivates my work. I want the end of Saving Time to be the beginning. After you read it, you have to go back outside and look at everything with a new lens, and now everything looks different. And hopefully it looks different because the reader has a new relationship to reality, and the world feels filled with curiosity rather than dread.” 

I can attest to the sense of discovery offered by Saving Time. In Odell’s work, observation, both inward and outward, is sacred. Here, she proves that there are new ways to think about time and productivity, that we don’t have to always feel like time is hopelessly scarce. Saving Time presents a new vision, both through a jeweler’s loupe and a pair of binoculars, of what a better world could look like.

Headshot of Jenny Odell by Chani Bockwinkel

The bestselling author of How to Do Nothing returns with a brilliant, hopeful critique of our obsession with efficiency.
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Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey has created a startling, generous new work in Rest Is Resistance. Grounding her debut book in Black liberation theology, abolitionist traditions and Afrofuturism, Hersey provides a blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health and social progress.

Hersey delineates American society as one in crisis. Through research and personal anecdotes, she demonstrates how our culture has systematically prioritized the generation of wealth above our health, happiness and stability—and subsequently romanticized this dysfunction as “grind culture” or “hustle culture.” For Hersey, embracing rest is an inherent rebuke of a violent system built on coerced labor and white supremacy. It is an intentional opt-out of an ideology that demands the labor of Black women while deriding us as lazy. She is also quick to denounce the modern wellness industry that has commodified and individualized self-care as something that can be packaged and sold (candles, shakes, crystals, etc.).

As part of this rejection of “shallow wellness work,” Hersey does more than just explain the problems of modern capitalism; she also provides practical methods of resistance through a variety of resting practices. Hersey argues that prayer, daydreams, sleep and intense laughter are not just enjoyable but sacred balms. But at the forefront of this work is the understanding that these spiritual practices go beyond the individual. According to Hersey, cultivating rest honors the labor of our ancestors and promises a better world for our descendants.

Hersey’s prose is exquisitely beautiful, dripping with lyrical grace and wisdom that make her background as a poet and scholar obvious. Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler and bell hooks are named inspirations for her craft, and their work echoes throughout Hersey’s thinking. “I don’t want a seat at the table of the oppressor,” Hersey writes as she dreams of a better future for us all. “I want a blanket and pillow down by the ocean.” Rest Is Resistance is a book to read and reread with a pen in hand and pad beside you; one that you will find yourself wanting to give to friends, co-workers and strangers.

Founder of the Nap Ministry Tricia Hersey provides an exquisite blueprint for rejecting the demands of modern capitalism in favor of our collective health.
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Poet and author Ander Monson has seen the 1987 movie Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger on the run from an alien in a Guatemalan jungle, 146 times. To explain why, he wrote Predator: A Memoir. Through a scene-by-scene exploration of the film, which he describes as “satire wrapped in gun pornography,” Monson reckons with his lifelong obsession with the movie and how it has informed his relationships to fatherhood, violence, fanaticism and masculinity.

“How dumb is this to have spent a decade or more watching this kind of dumb movie?” Monson asks throughout the book. What he proves is that Predator is both dumb and insightful; spending a lifetime with Predator is both a fun, escapist pastime and a profound self-education. Through repeated rewatches of the film, Monson better understands the real-life predators that have lingered in his imagination. One recurring image is the shocking rape and murder of his childhood babysitter by a budding serial killer in his small hometown in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the character of the Predator, Monson sees a culmination of how violence, particularly violence committed by men, has been fetishized: “What’s hunting us is us, Predator tells us. It’s a version of us—male, equipped, single-minded, armed, aggressive, showy, and powerful.” With complete candor, he interrogates violence he has both witnessed and committed, violence that has both harmed and benefited him.

This is not film analysis, and though Monson does provide critique, he’s not looking at the film as a work of art. Predator is about Monson’s shifting relationship to a fixed cultural object and how he has seen himself reflected in it and found himself reflecting it back. However, navel-gazing is skillfully avoided. Monson’s narration has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby. 

Some level of interest in the film is definitely required to understand what Monson is saying, but his storytelling spills over with tactile curiosity and fervor, making this work accessible to those who have seen the movie 145 fewer times than he has. It’s a book that will ignite conversation (and multiple film rewatches) for those who can relate to Monson’s familiar sentiment: “I’m not angry at masculinity exactly but I do have questions for it.”

Ander Monson’s exploration of the 1987 film Predator has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby.
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Though Nuar Alsadir set out to write a book about laughter, Animal Joy is a far deeper study of how we express and understand our most powerful emotions, told through meticulous psychoanalytic research and Alsadir’s own experiences.

Animal Joy opens at a clown school where Alsadir enrolled to explore laughter. The only nonactor of the group, Alsadir sought to understand a specific laugh: the spontaneous outburst. “Spontaneous outbursts of laughter express meaning outside of reason and . . . unveil a whole dimension of being and bodily aliveness that short-circuits logic,” she writes. Alsadir explores a wide variety of social outbursts, including the laughter Christine Blasey Ford recalled hearing from Brett Kavanaugh when he allegedly sexually assaulted her, the tradition of professional mourners and the fake laughter purposefully generated in a laughter yoga class. This research provokes an intimate examination of impulsive and unconscious communication in all of its “savage complexity.”

As a poet and psychoanalyst—readers might recognize her as one of the counselors from the Showtime documentary series “Couples Therapy”—Alsadir is uniquely positioned as an excavator of human emotion and the things that evoke those emotions. She draws a constellation of interactions, with points made out of Anna Karenina’s doomed love affair, Blade Runner‘s obedient replicants and Dick Cavett’s 1985 interview with Eddie Murphy. These references are not tangential or tacked on but essential components of her thinking. “Other people’s speech, like it or not, lives inside us, buoys us, metastasizes,” she writes. “We are quantum entangled with our universe and everything in it.”

Rather than feeling dated or overly niche, these deeply specific references only heighten the intimacy Alsadir offers. There is plenty of serious academic analysis to admire in Animal Joy, with her detailed discussions of Sigmund Freud and Roland Barthes, but what is more spectacular is how she entangles theory with the tender anecdotes about her two daughters that ground the book. Though the terrain Alsadir covers is vast and often feels tenuously connected, the resonant beauty of her prose helps guide the reader through a deliberately cluttered and complicated narrative. 

Animal Joy is a challenging and deeply rewarding meditation on laughter and communication that will stand up to multiple readings; as Alsadir herself reminds us, “Understanding often occurs retroactively.”

Though Nuar Alsadir set out to write a book about laughter, Animal Joy is a far deeper study of how we express and understand our most powerful emotions.
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Poet Kendra Allen’s Fruit Punch is a sensitive and lyrical collage of the sexuality and violence she experienced during her Dallas childhood. Writing in masterfully composed vignettes as vivid and fleeting as real memories, Allen excavates the anger, powerlessness and wonder she experienced as a young Black girl learning to navigate the world. 

Radiating from Fruit Punch‘s center is a hauntingly precise meditation on the body, as Allen celebrates the vibrancy of childhood play alongside the many ways this joy can be, and was, squashed when she was sexually abused by a family member. It’s a skillful observation of how Black female bodies are hypersexualized, objectified and aggressed starting in childhood. Allen’s mother, L.A., also survived this pattern and feared it would repeat with her own children. Allen writes about how, when she was 9, “L.A. gets terrified for me this year; fearing for my whereabouts and making sure to ask me about my body and who is touching it or had it already been touched.”

What makes Fruit Punch truly dazzling is how Allen hunts for the slippery traces of celebration amid the visceral pain of girlhood. This is not a straightforward lamentation of trauma and the loss of innocence but a fully rendered vision of childhood’s many facets. In that sense, her words both disrupt and sparkle. She doesn’t only experience fear; she also dances in laundromats to Brandy and Britney Spears and breaks the rules of her great-great-uncle’s “No uncrossed ankles / No questions” Southern Baptist church.

Inside this turmoil is Allen’s inescapable sense of irony. As she discusses her childhood abuse for the first time, she shares the fears she has for the next generation: “Especially now since it’s a lot of lil girls in my family. I be scared for them. For they voices. But I had more fun times than not for sure.” Fruit Punch is a startling, unique and deeply poetic work from a writer on the rise.

Fruit Punch is a startling, unique and deeply poetic meditation on sexuality and violence. Kendra Allen is a writer on the rise.
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Tajja Isen’s debut essay collection reveals her as a multihyphenate talent—voice actor, singer, editor, writer, law school graduate—with a delicious knack for wordplay and language. In Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service, Isen writes about the disparity between the “token apologies and promises” made by white people and what Black people actually want and take for themselves.

The strongest essay, which lends its name to the book’s title, examines the relationship white women have to power and pain, which Isen dubs the “aesthetics of vulnerability.” Continuing a thread from the previous essay about the popularity of Black trauma writing, Isen looks at how self-indulgence has been romanticized by white female artists. “If you’re always in pain you’ll never want for material,” she writes of these white artists’ impulse to glamorize their sadness.

Another standout essay is “Hearing Voices,” Isen’s personal exploration of voice acting as a transformative and potentially empowering art form. In addition to outlining her own experiences as a Black voice actor, she discusses “Big Mouth,” “Central Park” and “The Simpsons,” three animated shows that cast white actors to voice nonwhite characters and then apologized for this choice in 2020.

This essay also underlines a central weakness of the book: It already feels dated. Scanning the table of contents feels like reading a list of Twitter’s most popular trending topics from 2020. In the churn of the modern news cycle, it seems inevitable that not every moment referenced would have cultural staying power, but it’s especially frustrating when Isen chooses intentionally ephemeral data points, like viral trailers for made-for-TV movies or deleted Instagram posts.

In the book’s most compelling moments, Isen makes the churn the point: Whatever Starbucks or Lena Dunham did and subsequently apologized for in 2020 is something they’ll do again in 2030. Rather than revealing a new issue, the “Big Mouth” casting controversy confirmed something Isen had already learned early in her voice acting career: “The problem is the ivory grip on what Black sounds like.”

Throughout the collection, Isen engages the greatest hits of leftist Twitter discourse but with the type of nuance that’s impossible in 280 characters. She admits to “keeping an eye on the writers at the vanguard, seeing what kind of behavior gets rewarded,” and that’s reflected in the originality of Some of My Best Friends’ content—but it’s Isen’s original perspective and clever language that will win over readers.

Tajja Isen’s debut essay collection reveals her as a multihyphenate talent with a delicious knack for wordplay and language.
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Journalist Karen Cheung’s intimate memoir of Hong Kong explores what it means to live in and love a complicated city. In The Impossible City, Hong Kong frequently appears as a temperamental partner described in body horror-like terms: It’s a city that’s dying, a city “on the verge of mutilation,” a city ready to disappear. But Cheung’s Hong Kong is also vividly multifaceted, at once marked by the constructed “Hong Kong cool” glamorized in Wong Kar Wai films and yet full of people yearning for a more equitable future built through collective action and protest.

Though Cheung was ambivalent about Hong Kong as a child, an outsider in both the elite international school and public secondary school she attended, she eventually embraced her hometown as a second family after her beloved grandmother died and her father’s home became too abusive to remain in. Alongside her evolving personal relationship with Hong Kong, she narrates the city’s most significant and turbulent moments from her lifetime, including the Handover in 1997, when the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China; Occupy Central in 2014, also known as the Umbrella Movement, when crowds occupied Hong Kong for 79 days to demand more transparent elections; and both the SARS and COVID-19 pandemics. In Cheung’s hands, the problems, charms and complexities that characterize the city are illuminated with grace and intelligence. She refuses to write from a distance or cater to a white audience, dismissing the bland both-sidesism of modern journalism.

Cheung explores gentrification not just through statistics and citations but through a summary of the six different residences and 22 different roommates she lived with in just five years. An ongoing and citywide mental health crisis is discussed through her own struggle to access reliable psychiatric care. Most powerfully, The Impossible City asks how we can belong to and believe in a city and world that are frequently disappointing, and how we can continue to care about a future we may never see.

Cheung’s luminous memoir will appeal to both those familiar with Hong Kong and armchair travelers hoping to better understand the roots of the city’s political movements. Beyond that, The Impossible City will resonate with anyone who has struggled to love their city of residence in a time characterized by political dissent, racial strife and pandemic.

In Karen Cheung’s luminous debut memoir, Hong Kong’s problems, charms and complexities are illuminated with grace and intelligence.

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